Play the band

By Tommy Monaghan.

What are you having?” I asked as I pulled up a stool in Balbriggan’s Central Bar. “I’ll have a pint of Guinness!” said Tony as he downed the remnants of the glass in front of him.

There was a fair crowd in the place, a bit unusual for a Monday night. By the look on Tony’s face I could see that he wasn’t in great form. Then again how could any Cavan man be in good form? Mick, the owner of the establishment arrived and placed two frothy pints in front of us. As he did so he looked at Tony. Then he looked at me, grinned and walked away. Tony looked very uncomfortable.
“Right, what’s going on here?” I asked. “Say nothing!” says he. “They’re all in their element.”

I got the message. They were giving him a bit of a hard time about Cavan’s defeat to Derry the previous day in Breffni Park. There was no better man to lead in the slagging than Mick the Meath man.
“If one of them opens his mouth ... I said.

“Shh!” he said. “Don’t let on to them that it bothers you.”
Not being endowed with a disposition as gentle as my cousin’s I was sorely tempted to give vent to my feelings. He sensed it and pleaded for calm. Out of respect I kept my composure.
“Right!” I said. “I won’t.”

It did bother me though, and I knew that it bothered Tony as well.
“God of almighty what were they doing at all? I mean the Sunday before above in Casement they were a different team. They should have won that day. Then they came along and make a show of themselves at home in Breffni Park.”

“Ah look!” he said. “It’s over. It wasn’t their fault. These things happen. Everything went wrong for them on the day. They’re not as bad as that.”
“Not as bad as ...

Easier said that done, as the man said. How can a Crosserlough man not talk football? Mind you when I was a child there wasn’t much football talked about in Crosserlough. Unlike Cornafean and Mullahoran and the glory days of the ‘Slashers’ in Cavan town, football fever had not as yet surfaced in Crosserlough.

I came from the very heart of the parish, a place called ‘Rockfield’. It extended from the church at the top of the brae, right down to the boggy lowlands behind Briody’s Post Office. It took no great stroke of genius to give the place a name. It’s a minefield of rocks.

My cousin Tony on the other hand, is a townie. He hails from the middle of Main Street in Cavan town. There’s a fair bit of Crosserlough in him though.

He first came to Rockfield when I was four years of age. He was only three and didn’t have much sense. Every summer he would be deposited, for safekeeping I suppose, to my granny’s house, which was only a few fields away from ours. It must have been a huge change for the little fellow being sent to live in a thatched house down a boreen out in the middle of nowhere.

The procedure was the same every year. The parents would stay on at granny’s house until that evening. Then, while Tony was charging around chasing the chickens or scaring the daylights out of the cattle, the parents would sneak off. They would have been gone well over an hour before it dawned on the little townie that he had been condemned to a rural existence for the foreseeable future. A period of wailing and screaming would ensue followed by a bout of tantrum-throwing. I always hated when he did that. I didn’t know what to do with him. It never lasted for long though. Soon the townie would be embracing the rural lifestyle with the fanaticism of a fervent convert. I couldn’t keep up with him. He would want to make the hay, ride in the cart, go to the well, pick potatoes, or just charge up and down the field beside the house kicking a little ball and pretending he was Mick Higgins’ or Tony Tighe.’

It can’t have been easy for him. His parents had a small public house and there would have been people coming and going every day. He would have been used to the sounds of cars and trucks and people shouting. He would have seen parades and ‘fair days’ and circuses and listened to ‘Innocent Charlie’ the town crier announcing to all and sundry that such and such an event was taking place ‘in the town hall tonight’. Houses would have been ‘on top of each other’ where he came from. Yet every summer he had to leave all of that. The only crowds he would see would be at Mass on Sunday. His only experience of traffic congestion would be two carts meeting on the way to the creamery. The silence must have been deafening. A silence occasionally broken by the echoing sound of a dog barking in the distance, or the far away rattle of a horse and cart as it struggled up the brae. The nearest neighbour’s house might be a mile away. Yet Tony the townie adjusted to it all. Adjusting to life in my granny’s house however was a ‘different kettle of fish’ as the man said. Just think about it. A three year old townie living in the country with a granny, an unmarried aunt and two bachelor uncles. On top of all that there was ‘Fr John.’

Fr John
The imminent arrival of Fr John was an event in itself. The whole house was ‘spring cleaned’ from top to bottom. Granny and the aunt were always like a pair of auld fusspots as the time drew near. The top room was got ready. Clean sheets and blankets and a beautiful quilt were spread across the bed. A spotless table-cloth adorned his dining table. Turf was stacked beside the fireplace in his room. The kitchen was swept out several times a day with the ‘whin’ brush. The churn in the corner was on overtime, producing a plentiful supply of his favourite ‘country butter’. That wasn’t all. The arrival of Fr John occasioned more positional changes in that house than Sean Boylan would make on the Meath team. Granny switched to the aunt’s room. The two resident uncles would be ostracised to the attic and the townie would have to spend his nights wedged between granny and the aunt. I’m sure that Fr John had no idea that his arrival caused such an upheaval. But he was ‘a man of God’ and granny insisted on treating him special. Tony was probably the only person in that house that treated the priest like a normal human being. As a result the priest and the townie got on very well.

One of the bachelor uncles was the church sacristan. He was the fittest man in the parish. He would climb the brae to open the church for mass every morning. He would go back up again at noon to ring out the ‘Angelus’ and do a repeat performance at six ‘o clock. Sometimes there would be devotions or missions or confessions that required more trips. The parishioners had a nickname for him. He was known as ‘the priest’. How in the name of God was an innocent little townie expected to make sense of that I ask you? There he was, living in a house in which there were three uncles. Two out of three climbed up a ladder every night and slept in the loft. One of the attic uncles was known as ‘the priest’. But he wasn’t a priest. The third uncle, the one who didn’t actually live there but had the best room in the house, was a priest.

The Trimmings
One particular incident epitomises how relaxed the townie and the priest were with each other. Every single night granny would insist that we all kneel down for the rosary. Children were excused from many chores but never from the rosary. It just wasn’t fair. After all, we were the ones with the short trousers. It was our little bony knees that were being forced to kiss that cold cement floor every evening. What made the situation worse was the fact that granny would insist on injecting ‘the trimmings’ onto the proceedings as well. Everyone who had ever lived or died in Rockfield was prayed for. There were prayers for the Pope, and the Bishops, the ‘poor souls in purgatory’ , ‘the missions’ and ‘the black babies’. Every aunt, uncle, brother, sister, first cousin, second cousin and third cousin once removed was interceded for. No friend or neighbour could be left out and of course there was ‘all the relations in America’. It got so that the rosary became a sort of foreplay for the trimmings.

It would all get too much for the poor townie. The rhythmic repetition of the ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Holy Mary’ lulled him off to sleep and he would be carried off to bed long before we landed at the ‘litanies’. It happened often and he hated it. He felt that he was missing out on something. There was one occasion however when the townie did succeed in ‘beating the system’ as they say.

The arrival to the house of an invention called ‘a wireless’ had been the cause of great excitement a few days previous. The townie, to my amazement had never come across such a contraption. He was totally in awe of the box in the corner with the music coming out of it. He had great difficulty in pronouncing the word ‘wireless’ so whenever he wished to have it switched on he would shout ‘play the band!’. On this particular evening Fr John was leading us through the fourth sorrowful mystery. The townie was fighting hard to stay awake. As usual the rhythmic drone was lulling him into a trance ... Hail Mary full of grace... Holy Mary Mother of God. The eyelids dropped and then suddenly shot open ... Hail Mary full of grace ... Holy Mary Mother of God.” They started to droop again. He became desperate. He searched around the kitchen for anything at all that might distract him. Then he saw it, the box in the corner. What followed was inevitable.

Fr John ‘Hail Mary full of grace ...
All ‘Holy Mary Mother of God...
Fr John ‘Hail Mary full of grace ...
All ‘Holy Mary Mother of God ...
Fr John ‘Hail Mary full of grace ...
All ‘Holy Mary Mother of God ...
The Townie ‘Play the Band!”

Consternation followed when Fr John brought proceedings to a sudden halt. There was a few seconds of silence that seemed like an eternity. Then, to granny’s utter shock and horror, Fr John, the real priest, ‘fell about the place laughing.’ After giving the priest a proper scolding granny retired to her room in disgust. To my certain knowledge, the townie is the only person who ever succeeded in trimming the ‘trimmings.”

When we reached our teens the Crosserlough era ended for the townie. We would often encounter each other however, particularly on the football field. The Crosserlough club had now become a football colossus. Seven championships in a row and players like Byers, King, Gaffney, Noel O’Reilly, Hanley, Fr Benny, Gerry Duffy, the ‘spear’ Lynch, Andy McCabe, Brian Reilly and Padraig Boyle. Later on would come the Boylans, the Cusacks, John Joe Reilly, Donal Crotty and many more.
“Do you know what I’m looking forward to?”

My meandering down memory lane was brought to a halt by the townie sitting on the bar stool beside me.

“What?” I asked.

“I’m looking forward to the day that the two of us walk in here after Cavan have once again won the ‘Anglo Celt Cup’ .. I just want to see the grin wiped off his royal puss.”
“Do you know what we’ll do when that happens?” I said.
“What?” I asked.
‘We’ll ... Play the band!”

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2000